Open-ended questions, often referred to as qualitative research, are an interesting way to generate information. Rather than limit the user to the boxes provided, the individual completing the survey has the opportunity to expand on the answers or provide interesting feedback that the company may not have considered. Open-ended questions are, in many ways, like an interview, where the company asks a question and can receive an unlimited number of answers.
However, open-ended questions also put a lot of extra work on the respondent, and for many surveys it’s often thrown in superfluously. It’s a tradition these days for companies to add open-ended questions such as “Is there anything you would like to add?” to nearly every question they ask. It’s certainly a nice thought because there is a chance that the user will provide an answer that is genuinely helpful. Yet despite that potential value, it may be better to leave it off the survey altogether.
Why to Avoid Open-Ended Questions in Your Survey
- Most People Don’t Answer Them: The greatest reason to avoid open-ended questions in your survey is because few people take the time to answer them unless absolutely necessary. Surveys are generally an inconvenience to most survey respondents, no matter the incentive. Unless they have a legitimate reason to answer the open-ended question, chances are they’ll skip it and move on.
- Adds Too Much Work for the Value: Another reason to skip the questions is because they add a great deal of work on the respondent, and this can increase survey dropout rate. You don’t want your surveys to look or appear long. Simply by putting open-ended questions in the survey you increase the survey length, and even if the user doesn’t answer them, they increase the total page count of the survey.
- Cannot Expand on Expansion: Let’s say your respondents do answer the question. How often is it going to be a long and worthwhile answer? It’s not uncommon for the user to provide an answer that is woefully inadequate, no matter how interesting it may be, and in the end the company still needs to ask more questions to get further information about the answer.
Qualitative answers are genuinely useful for research, but they are also useful in very specific situations, and not simply because you hope that your respondents will provide you with a more complete answer. Use them sparingly, and they’ll provide you with better answers and a better response rate.